A fresh co-operative approach to restaurants

Articles
December 20, 2010

A fresh co-operative approach to restaurants

People eat out to avoid food boredom. Restaurateurs with more cuisine ideas than dollars to invest could band together to offer the meal diversity consumers want by sharing a single location. Neighborhood regulars could come to please their palates more days per week without a flavor rut. Traffic could boom, and many could benefit.

People eat out to avoid food boredom. Restaurateurs with more cuisine ideas than dollars to invest could band together to offer the meal diversity consumers want by sharing a single location. Neighborhood regulars could come to please their palates more days per week without a flavor rut. Traffic could boom, and many could benefit.

Think of the restaurant site as a Hollywood stage:  the table dress and art on the walls could change with the menus every couple of days, as each operator takes a turn. The kitchen itself would remain the same, as would the servers and bartender staffs. All parties would rigorously adhere to food safety and handling standards. Rent would be shared.

Operators could soon hit a rhythm of cuisine and chef rotation that makes sense for the site and becomes known to the locals who eat out close to home. It’s a pretty dynamic business dynamic – perhaps aided by Twitter, like the food trucks do – that could put (partial) restaurant ownership into the hands of more experimenters.  

This lean operating model is akin to Zip Car – you pay for the access you need as you go. To whom would this appeal? First, working chefs at restaurants who want to build entrepreneurial experience on their day off each week. Second, full-time retirees whose veteran restaurant experiences could be ideal for these part-time affairs. Third, displaced workers from restaurants that no longer exist, who want their own shot at success.

One cooperative in downtown New York City is Colors, which serves small plates of global cuisines; their flavors change with the seasons and people eat communally. Colors has set goals to buy 50% of its food from traceable sources, to emphasize local foods, and to stand as a model for better employment conditions for restaurant workers. The restaurant serves dinner at night, and acts as a service center for restaurant workers during the day. Colors has made ethics a differentiating point; other operators could develop different images.

It might not be much of a stretch for supermarkets to showcase similar diversity in their prepared-food area offerings – perhaps even by showcasing some of the favorite home recipes of the international workers they employ and crediting them fully. Who knows what these stores might inspire.